Buzznet.com CEO Tyler Goldman doesn't want people to think of his company as a social network. No, what Goldman says he's running is a music- and pop-culture-focused community site.
"We definitely wouldn't view ourselves as a social network, and we probably wouldn't disagree with folks that say the world doesn't need another social network," Goldman, a former executive at Movielink and founder of Broadband Sports, said in an interview. His preferred jargon? "Socially programmed communities." Buzznet, in other words, wants to be the 1980s-era MTV of the social-media age: an epicenter for youth trends and cultural influence, where the content is fueled by a community rather than hand-picked editorial content.
Goldman said he sees Buzznet as "much more competitive in term of an offering with an MTV.com or a Yahoo Music" than a MySpace or Last.fm.
That's some ambition. In an age when Facebook takes up all the headlines, MySpace still dominates traffic, LinkedIn invites are choking our inboxes, and the Web-futurist set is trying to come up with solutions to all the usernames and passwords we currently juggle, saying that you want to be the next big social-networking destination has gotten a little d?class?. And when the economy's grown tepid, the music industry has fallen and can't get up, and every day another blogger is talking about the tech bubble bursting, saying that you want to be the next mass-media hotspot is bound to raise a few eyebrows.
Buzznet's strategy is unapologetically think-big. Founded in 2005, the Los Angeles-based company counts veteran execs from Yahoo and Time Inc. among its upper ranks.
"Our goal is to build the world's biggest and best music experience and then to do the same thing in other pop culture topics," Goldman explained. Instead of starting from a grassroots following, the way MySpace did as a hub for independent band promotion, Buzznet wants to break out at the top by scoring high-profile investors, tasty acquisitions, and powerful partnerships. The company is rumored to have roped in about $25 million in venture funding, with one of the reported investors Universal Music's Interscope. (Goldman declined to comment on that.)
And Goldman said that next week, Buzznet will make the first of a number of partnership announcements designed to get more audio content on the site. When asked if that meant a record label deal, Goldman replied. "That's a logical assumption."
Buzznet does appear to be off to a strong start. Nielsen numbers last summer indicated a spike in popularity, and its VideoCensus numbers for February ranked Buzznet as one of the top 10 online video destinations for the 12-24 age demographic in the U.S., ranking ahead of Facebook and popular gaming-culture site 1Up. Goldman said Buzznet is now pulling in over 10 million visitors per month, and that because of its focus on content rather than networking, advertising click-through rates are promising. He declined to provide numbers.
But at the same time, Alexa traffic graphs show Buzznet has still been growing much more slowly than Imeem, another acquisition-happy social-media site targeting music fans. And MySpace has opted to refocus its efforts on media content with the launch of its MySpace Music service.
As a result, Buzznet's team is attempting the dual challenge of building a social community as well as pulling in established content--and its readers--through niche acquisitions. Gossip blogs JustJared and A Socialite's Life have already been pulled into the Buzznet fold, and earlier this month, Buzznet announced the acquisition of Stereogum, a popular independent music blog, and announced the launch of a sister blog, Videogum, edited by New York blogging veterans Gabe Delahaye and Lindsay Robertson.
It wasn't a traditional acquisition. Stereogum had been owned by the Pilot Group, the investment firm operated by former AOL executive Robert Pittman, who was so impressed by Buzznet that he traded it in exchange for an equity stake. "Pilot Group approached us awhile ago, and we have some common friends there," Goldman said of the Stereogum acquisition, which was finalized earlier this month. "They were interested in investing in the company. Unfortunately, we had already finished our investment round, so (the Stereogum trade) became an opportunity for them to invest in Buzznet."
Up next, per blog rumors, is reportedly Qloud, a startup backed by AOL founder Steve Case that makes music applications for social-networking sites. That's another rumor on which Goldman wouldn't comment.
But he would comment on the future. When asked if he was willing to say he wanted his company to be the next MTV, in true Buzznet fashion, he aimed higher. "I would say more the next Viacom," he replied excitedly. "We believe this formula of social-media programming is very successful and applies to all areas of pop culture...television, film, fashion, celebrity."
So have they made any mistakes along the way? Goldman was willing to admit to one.
"We've done a poor job," he said, "of explaining that we're not a social network."